Do next?

When I first used computer systems, there were a lot more user interfaces that felt like adventure games. You’d be presented with a prompt, and the rest of the user interface would be largely concealed. It would be up to you to deduce a proper function of the system by trying all of the plausible responses to the prompt - including “help” or “?”, which might work but you would never really know.

Later systems layered on a menu interface with drop-down elements that would let you explore a bit without needing to memorize, but there’s still this element of Hunt the Wumpus in all computing systems. Even the good user interfaces necessarily conceal some complexities that you will eventually need to use, and every command line I’ve ever used has some terminal point in the search which leads to a poorly documented or poorly understood bit of essential function.

Why is it so hard to learn new systems? Some old packages - I have WordStar in mind - had a kind of training wheels mode, where the help screens would start out telling you all of the commands you might want to use. Advanced modes would turn off some of the help, and eventually you’d be on your own. This experience of leveling up exposes the difference between the true essential core of a complex system and the complexity that got added in via extended use.

The mental models we build of new systems are sometimes made unnecessarily complex because new systems often breed new languages to describe themselves, full of old words that have unpredictable new meanings. Often you have to work throught layers of new vocabulary, described in the FAQs only in terms of other new vocabulary, to get at the essential qualities of something new.

At worst it feels like aliens describing something you thought you understood but evidently you didn’t. Maybe we need to break out of the notion that more words will explain things. Perhaps a coloring book would help? Something that’s tactile and that lets you trace over relationships with a new color can help place relationships that are hard to explain with words.

(Alas, I am bad at making graphics, though I can imagine some of what this might need to cover.)